Jewish Children's Music Grows Up
From Uncle Moishy to OyBaby.
Orthodox communities soon produced their own stars of the children's music scene. Abie Rotenberg's three-volume set The Marvelous Midos Machine, released in 1986, is now considered a classic. The albums pick up on the storytelling style of earlier artists like Gerwitz, as well as Hasidic singers/storytelling masters like Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The science fiction-esque adventures of Dr. Midos and his machine were designed to help children behave their best by using Jewish values.
The Marvelous Midos Machine
Moshe Tanenbaum, otherwise known as Uncle Moishy, is probably the Orthodox world's biggest hit. Uncle Moishy, with his ruddy face and giant letter mem propped proudly on the front of his black hat, has been making music with his band The Mitzvah Men since 1979. Their tunes are always bright and engaging, focusing on topics like Shabbat, kashrut, and tzedakah.
Another Orthodox songwriter, Country Yossi (Yossi Toiv), who got his name from his Jewish parodies of country tunes, takes a no-nonsense approach to Jewish practice. His song "Cuz I'm a Jew" (set to the tune of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line") includes the line, "Oh once a year I twirl a chicken over my head/ and it wouldn't be that bad if it were dead/ and there's a time when I go outside and burn my bread/ cause I'm a Jew I do that too."
Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, some more experimental Jewish children's performers have taken the stage. They play with every genre from reggae to rap, and they touch on universal themes and values as well as particularly Jewish concerns. Few claim allegiance to a Jewish denomination. Like children's acts such as The Wiggles and VeggieTales, their projects and shows are varied, adding multimedia enhancements and engaging Web 2.0 to develop their message and audience.
Mama Doni (whose album covers cast her as a hip, Jewish Lucille Ball peddling Yiddish delicacies) focuses her songs on the joyful idiosyncrasies of being a Jewish kid, from livin' "La Vida Dreidel" to bringing a pet gefilte fish to school for show-and-tell. Matt Bar's Bible Raps project, which has gained a strong following in Jewish overnight camps across the country, examines and expands upon the lives of biblical characters through the rhythm and energy of rap/hip hop.
Naomi Less, whose persona is rock and roll to the core, brings a message of confidence and self-esteem to girls through the poppy, Hebrew-laced tunes of Jewish Chicks Rock. The popular new series OyBaby aims to please infant and old alike with its sweet, cleanly harmonized versions of classic Jewish songs, often accompanied by videos of dancing puppets and groups of happy Jewish children.
There is more to come from the world of Jewish children's music. Its artists are maturing and changing alongside their audience, and there's no telling what they could grow up to be.
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